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Cambridge Digital Humanities

 

What are the ingredients of a good DH research project? Even a quick glance at the huge range of DH projects under way at the University of Cambridge and at institutions around the world reveals that there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to project conception and design. Nevertheless, some common features do characterise DH projects and indeed research initiatives more generally, and the most important is that designated research questions will underlie and motivate each such enquiry.

Once an idea has been initially formed, it is helpful to develop a research project based on it according to the following headings: 

  • Context (to include consideration of existing research in the area of interest, with a view to identifying possible lacunae or problems therein)
  • Research Questions or Problems (these should arise from the inadequacies or problems associated with the existing research)
  • Aims (focusing in particular on the relevant research questions or problems)
  • Objectives (indicating specific outcomes from the proposed research, including publications or other forms of output, including internet-based resources, as well as advances in knowledge and understanding, new techniques, and so forth)
  • Methodology (how the research would be undertaken and according to what timescale)
  • Potential Significance (articulating how the proposed research would be original and of potential value to others in redressing the lacunae and/or problems identified at the start)

Given that Digital Humanities encompasses the use of digital methods by arts and humanities researchers and necessarily involves some form of collaboration between DH specialists and those in the computing and scientific disciplines, it is essential to consider the nature of the 'happy marriage' that one hopes will emerge from that collaboration. This might involve the use of innovative methods and tools for investigating traditional data and media, or enhanced techniques for researching altogether new forms of data and media, as well as issues, ideas, behaviours, and much else. It might also concern the unprecedented opportunities offered in the field of DH to interrogate and reflect on the knowledge and insight that 'the digital' affords.

Early consideration must of course be given to the partners who are best placed to take part in the work; this is of critical importance to the success of a DH project, not least because the ideas about how the research might proceed will ideally be developed in dialogue and discussion across the potential team. It is extremely exciting, and often highly propitious, to exchange insights from different humanistic and/or technical perspectives that eventually yield more than the sum of their parts. One aspect of the 'happy marriage' referred to above therefore involves the feeding in of alternative approaches that one of the partners could never have thought of on their own, but which end up transforming the nature of the project, indeed transforming the underlying research questions themselves. Bear in mind that the dialogues and discussions that take place might involve conflict and opposition – but that in turn can be productive when handled effectively.

The fact that digital technologies are redefining what it means to be human means that DH researchers across the globe have unprecedented opportunity to harness the power offered by technology for exploring, defining and embodying new forms of knowledge and insight about the 'human condition'. Once again, the first step is to articulate the questions or problems that must be addressed if understanding and knowledge are to expand and develop further.

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